As I am sure you all know, this time last week, my dear father Richard Shaw z’l passed away, I am so grateful for the all the emails we received from readers during the shiva week.
I was also so grateful that I am part of a garden minyan, so I have been able to say kaddish for my father. However, there are still so many people (my uncle in Dublin for one) who cannot and have not been able to say kaddish for their loved ones.
Therefore, it is so good to see that shuls hopefully will be opening soon to allow a limited amount of people to say kaddish as well as daven with a minyan.
However, as the Chief Executive of the United Synagogue, Steven Wilson said yesterday, ‘Of course, in addition to being houses of prayer, our buildings are community centres’. Shul is not called BeitTefillah, a house of prayer, it is called Beit Knesset, a house of meeting.
Many years ago, I remember Rabbi Sacks explaining the different words for community. There are actually three edah, tzibbur and kehillah; and they each signify a different kind of association.
One of them we meet in this week’s parsha.
The second we are going to see once again from July 4th.
However, the third is the one we desperately need to return.
Let me explain:
Edah comes from the word eid, meaning “witness.” The people who constitute an edah have a strong sense of collective identity. They are bent on the same purpose. Korach v Adato as it says both in the parsha and in Pirkei Avot, they are united in their opposition to Moshe. Edah doesn’t have to be bad or good, simply put, an edah is a community of the like-minded. The word emphasises strong identity. It is a group whose members have much in common.
Tzibbur comes from the root tz‑b‑r, meaning “to heap” or “pile up.” Rabbi Sacks says it well:
‘To understand the concept of tzibbur, think of a group of people praying at the Kotel. They may not know each other. They may never meet again. But for the moment, they happen to be ten people in the same place at the same time, and thus constitute a quorum for prayer. A tzibbur is a community in the minimalist sense, a mere aggregate, formed by numbers rather than any sense of identity. A tzibbur is a group whose members may have nothing in common except that at a certain point they find themselves together, and thus constitute a “public” for prayer or any other command which requires a minyan.’
When I read this, I think of the minyan factories I have been to around the world to ‘get a minyan’ whether in Golders Green, Monsey or Yerushalayim.
As shuls reopen – we are basically just able to get to this level, we will be providing an ability for a minyan, an ability to say kaddish – we will be creating tzibburim all across the country. Of course, they will be more communal than the minyan factories, but they will still lack the vital ingredient that turns a tzibbur into a kehillah.
So, what is a kehillah? What makes it different from the other two kinds of community? Basically, its members are different from one another, which they may be in a tzibbur. However, in a kehillah they are orchestrated together for a collective undertaking—one that involves itself in making a distinctive contribution which may differ widely from others.
“The beauty of a kehillah, is that when it is driven by constructive purpose, it gathers together the distinct and separate contributions of many individuals, so that each can say, “I helped to make this.”
And what has been amazing during the last few months, is that even if the buildings and the tzibbur aspect had to close – the kehillot aspects were still running with chesed, programmes and shiurim all transferred on line. So many different people, not just the Rabbis and the Honorary offices have made sure that the power of the kehillah carried on without the physical space of the shul.
My dad loved shul, loved kehilla, he was a member of one for over 50 years and where he lived for 34 and where I and my brother grew up – Kingsbury shul.
He loved that kehilla and they loved him. He brought his kids to that kehilla from a young age and they got involved in the children services, the youth services, Bnei Akiva and all the wonderful chagim celebrations both in an out of the shul. My Dad was very involved in the leadership of the shul , as the current chair of the shul wrote to us this week:
‘He was a long-time member of our board and council of management and took on the difficult role of FR, probably the hardest job in the running of a shul. His easy manner and way with people smoothed many a potential problem. Ricky represented our shul in the Council of the United Synagogue for many years until he retired from our board last year’
When I read the letter, and especially the last line, it really made me think. Mum and Dad moved from Kingsbury to Edgware in 2004 yet he didn’t give up his communal roles until last year when his dementia unfortunately meant he couldn’t perform them any longer. That was his dedication to the kehilla.
Even though he had physically left the tzibbur in terms of tefillah he never stopped being part of the kehilla.
Kehilla is our greatest strength, we come together and we contribute and we create life long memories for people. Yes, we had regular services at Kingsbury but the memories of the kehillah go way beyond that – the sukkah crawls, the childhood and family friendships, the various kiddushim which created connections and strengthened Jewish identity in a way that a Bet Tefillah could never do. It was those experiences that fuelled me to become a Rabbi and work in a kehilla (Stanmore) and for the US centrally. Even in Mizrachi, the majority of our work is with kehillot all over the country. That is the most important institution of the Jewish community.
So we are grateful and thankful that services can slowly begin again in our shuls.
However, we hope and pray that soon the Batei Teffilot can transform back into the beautiful BateiKnessiot and our kehillot can thrive again.
And for sure, when I hopefully, eventually, come once again into Edgware United shul and stand up to give the drasha in the wonderful EMET service that we have there, I will give thanks to Hashem for our return to kehillah and also for giving me a Dad who from a very young age gave me the secret to the survival of the Jewish people and where we should be investing our energies to make them even stronger and more vibrant than before.
Thanks Dad for that unique gift – we miss you.
Richard Shaw ז”ל with his great granddaughter Liel, November 2019